Pet Trusts: What If Your Pet Outlives You?

I’m getting older. Gotta face it. I’m at an age where I seriously question my responsibility not to take on a young pet–especially a horse. Not only am I afraid I simply don’t “bounce” anymore like a younger rider, but I must reflect on how well I will be able to ride and care for a horse that lives another twenty or so years. As pet owners, we share an unspoken bond with our furry companions—a bond that often transcends mere ownership and becomes a deep, emotional connection. Yet, with this connection comes the responsibility of ensuring their well-being, even when we’re no longer around. The thought of our pets outliving us can be daunting, but proactive planning can alleviate some of these concerns and provide peace of mind for you and ensure a comfortable old age for your beloved animals.

Addressing Concerns Over Your Pets Outliving You

The reality is that our pets, particularly dogs, cats, and even horses, have much shorter lifespans than humans. Unfair as this may be, it means that as pet owners, we may confront the prospect of our pets outliving us. It’s a sobering thought, but one that necessitates careful consideration and planning. We have all seen dogs and cats dumped at shelters after an owner dies or horses no one can take run through auctions. Imagine the fear and confusion that would inflict on one’s pets.

No one wants to think about dying or becoming incapacitated. For some unfortunate few, it happens unexpectedly. Therefore, it’s crucial to include provisions for your pets in your estate planning. Consider designating a trusted individual who will assume responsibility for your pets in the event of your passing. This could be a family member, friend, or even a reputable animal welfare organization.

Additionally, creating a pet trust can offer a legally binding framework to ensure that funds are allocated specifically for the care of your pets. (Check your state for legal restrictions, but it is accepted in Maryland where I live.) Write out detailed instructions regarding your pets’ daily needs, medical care, dietary requirements, and any other pertinent information that will assist the designated caregiver in providing the best possible life for your animal companions.

In the case of aged pets, and horses in particular, it may be difficult to find someone willing to take them on. In that case you should be specific and clear in your instructions and perhaps insist on euthanasia (and provide the funds for it). This may sound cold to some, or even cruel, but it is preferable to your old pet suffering, fearful, and lacking proper medical care when you are no longer there to provide it. I would rather have my horse put down than to see her homeless, run through a cheap sale, and not given the expensive medicine and treatments she needs.

Putting Arrangements in Place

When Covid first hit, I started thinking about what would happen to my animals if the worst happened. That’s when I decided to get instructions down in writing. Consult with an estate planning attorney to draft a comprehensive will and establish a legally enforceable pet trust. Be sure to keep pertinent documents, including your will, pet trust, and any relevant veterinary records, in a secure and easily accessible location. Inform trusted individuals of your arrangements and provide clear instructions on how to access these documents in the event of your passing (or becoming incapacitated).

Deciding When You’re Too Old for Horses

Circling back to what started me down this rather morbid thought exercise: the debate over whether I have any business buying a youngish horse. This question prompted me to think hard about what I want from horses and riding as I age. Caring for and riding horses is a deeply fulfilling experience, but they are two separate activities. More on that later. It’s essential to acknowledge the physical demands horses take on our bodies, particularly as we age. Just the work of mucking stalls, stacking hay, emptying grain bags, and repairs around the farm are taxing on joints and muscles. Add riding (and God forbid falling) and you are putting a lot more stress and strain on an aging frame.

Indeed, assessing your own physical capabilities and limitations is paramount when determining whether you’re too old to ride or care for horses. But it is also critical to assess your mental and spiritual health with regard to living with or without horses. This aspect is often overlooked. Some of us simply can’t imagine a life without horses (or other pets) in it.

Of course as we age our bodies may not be as resilient as they once were, and the risk of injury increases. It’s essential to be realistic about your own physical condition and recognize when it may no longer be safe or practical to engage in horse activities such as riding. If horses are essential to your mental wellbeing (as they are for many of us), consider transitioning less physically demanding activities, such as ground work or therapeutic interactions with horses. Also, there is much to be said for simply caring for and loving them without riding.

Back to considering the purchase of a young horse… I had to use brutal honesty to evaluate my long-term commitment, skills, and fortitude necessary to provide for the horse’s needs and education throughout its life. Young horses require extensive training, time, and resources, and it’s crucial to ensure that you’re prepared to make the necessary investment in both time and finances.

What did I decide? Well, at this point, the jury is still out. It may be that I have to acknowledge I’m “too tired and drained” to start over with a green bean, meaning after a lifetime of horse worry and heartache, I may not have the emotional fortitude to take on another lifetime adventure of ups and downs with a horse. My heart is getting worn out. Sometimes when faced with a multitude of equine injuries and set-backs, it’s hard to keep hope alive . That’s okay. No judgement. Others my age or older may be capable, ready, and able to take it on. You have to decide for yourself.

Conclusion

No matter your age but certainly after 65 it is prudent you start planning for your pets’ future and make decisions about your own ability to care for them. By taking proactive steps to address these concerns and put appropriate arrangements in place, you can ensure that your beloved animal companions will be well cared for, even in your absence. Remember, the love and companionship we share with our pets endures beyond our lifetimes. They rely on us. It’s our responsibility to safeguard their well-being and be the spokesman for our beloved “family members” who cannot speak up for themselves.

ARE YOUR READY TO GIVE UP RIDING?

What have you done to provide for your pets? As a horse person, how do you feel about giving up riding? I’d love to hear from you in comments to start a discussion. There are no wrong answers and everyone is entitled to their opinion (be kind).

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